Distant and disparate: rural, regional and remote access to cancer care

Russell may already be familiar to you as our Chief Executive Officer. In this feature, we cover his story.

A man sits on a bench in an entryway, holding a dog. Another dog sits behind his legs, under the bench.
Russell, with two of his three dogs.

In August of 2022, Russell was diagnosed with anal cancer that had spread.

“I was delivered the news about two hours before a work event,” he says. “And I knew as soon as I walked in, from the GP’s approach.”

He lives in a small town in New South Wales, on traditional Gundungurra lands. A two-hour drive away from Sydney, the area’s lack of required cancer care for Russell meant that he and his husband had to uproot their lives to access treatment.

“I had to take six months off work and move from my home to Sydney for six weeks so I could get treatment,” Russell says.

“We took two of our dogs with us. We had to send our third dog out to the person we adopted it from.”


Unequal care

“There is no medical practice in our town anymore,” says Russell. “It closed last year.”

His story is one of many. One third of Australians live in a rural, regional or remote area.

Many are forced to relocate or commute hundreds of kilometres away to cancer centres located in metropolitan areas.

In rural, regional and remote areas, local cancer centres may not have specialist therapies available or have the capacity to deliver according to demand. This disparity deeply impacts every step of the cancer journey.

While 63% of cancer patients who live in major cities survive five years after being diagnosed, only 55% of cancer patients who live in very remote areas do.

Patients must travel arduous distances while sick, away from their support networks, for poorer outcomes.


Working towards better access and equity

At the GI Cancer Institute, we’re determined to address this inequality.

By aiming to have a teletrial component in each of our clinical trials, we can make sure that Australians are able to access the latest cancer treatments when they need it, regardless of where they call home.

“Having lived the experience of being treated for cancer, for a cancer that treatments have not progressed terribly much over the last decades… investment in research is paramount to increasing the chance of survival for patients,” Russell says.

“Without the treatment process, cancer’s going to take us.”

A man wearing glasses smiles at the camera, hugging a hen and surrounded by other chickens.
At home, Russell raises chickens…
A man with glasses feeds hay to two alpacas, smiling
…and alpacas.

Russell is currently recovering from surgery, having undergone a major procedure where any organ and tissue that could potentially have microscopic cancer was removed. He now has a colostomy bag.

“I’m at home now, with my wonderful husband, our three beautiful dogs, three alpacas and six chooks,” he says.

“It is so peaceful here.”


The GI Cancer Institute would like to express our gratitude and appreciation to Russell for sharing his lived experience with us.


This article was featured in The Digest, Issue 2, 2023.

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